REVIEW: Gemma Turvey and the New Palm Court Orchestra – Bridging Traditions

There’s a movie out there, waiting for Gemma Turvey to compose its soundtrack. Hopefully, it’s a great movie, worthy of the pianist’s talent, sensitivity and vision. These qualities, along with her virtuosity and leadership, were on display on the 10th of September at the Deakin Edge, when she led the New Palm Court Orchestra in the final of the ‘Bridging Traditions’ concerts for this year, featuring the Consort of Melbourne, a superb vocal ensemble.


In a programme that allowed her to showcase the potential of the orchestra through an eclectic blend of styles, from jazz to classical to brazilian music to cinematic soundscapes and religious songs, Gemma Turvey offered the audience a unique musical and emotional experience. There’s no other way to describe a concert that, though it featured superb compositions, such as Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade” and Ennio Morricone’s “On Earth as it is in Heaven”, neither was the highlight of the evening. In fact, it was a Gemma Turvey composition that stood out, her “American Suite”, an image-filled recounting of her trip to the United States that featured, in the second movement, Gianni Marinucci’s expressive flugelhorn.

As a leader, Gemma Turvey seems to be fully aware of the strengths of the orchestra’s members – and the talents of her guests. She knows when to step aside – and let, for instance, the sublime Karen Heath shine on Morricone’s ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ – and when it’s time to step up. On “Chega de Saudade”, a tune forever marked by Jobim’s crisp, almost percussive piano playing, she opted for an understated approach; the piano seemed to dissolve, the joyous voices of Consort being the stars of the performance. On the other hand, when she and the vocal ensemble played “Parce mihi Domine” (by the Spanish renaissance composer Cristobal de Morales), a performance inspired by Jan Garbarek’s work wit the Hilliard Ensemble, her nuanced improvisation was at the same time so discreet and powerful, that she somehow managed to eclipse the singers, reacting to them as if they were nothing more than the voices in her head.